Monday, October 29, 2012

Discrimination against the handicapped

A friend of mine asked me if I had noticed the degree of discrimination that the handicapped faced? I was a bit surprised, I had not encountered this before. He went on to relate a story about a family friend.

The family friend had been asked to remove her child from school. A group of parents of other students had objected to the presence of this child and brought pressure to bear on the teachers who had, in turn asked that the child be removed.

The reason? The child was suffering from Downes syndrome, which, presumably, something that they thought either dangerous or repulsive, probably both.

In searching for a school for the child the parents met many teachers, one of whom had faced a similar experience previously. Ceylinco Sussex College had wanted to accommodate pupils with learning difficulties in the school and hire specially trained teachers to work with them. The school had been forced to abandon the project after parents objected.

My friend remarked that not only is there discrimination based on race and religion, even the handicapped are a "problem". He wondered why people simply did not complete the cycle and apply for their Nazi party cards, because these were the very characteristics that the Nazi's wished to stamp out.

I could not but agree with him.

To Galle, by train

I am a regular visitor to Galle during the Literary Festival but never visit otherwise. I have been meaning to explore the town further so accepted an invitation from a friend living in Galle to spend a few days with him.

I was too lazy to drive and thought it would be a change to take the train instead. It is a fairly short journey and the ride could be fun.

The greatest difficulty with the train is obtaining proper information. Seat61 is one of the best sources of information. If you want to cross check anything try the  Government information service number 0112-191919. They are helpful but their information is sometimes a bit dodgy (when I went to Haputale they told me that advance bookings for the observation carriage were possible 10 days ahead, but it turned out that they were open 14 days ahead and tickets were sold out when I went to book). You could also try calling the CGR directly ( I got the numbers from the Government Information Service and did that, just to make sure). Anyway by a process of triangulation, it is possible to get a fair idea.

I wanted to take the morning train (at 6.50am) but my brother warned me that I should get to the station by around 6am, because the queues may be long. It was a good thing that I did because the queues were long and I stood in the wrong one.

There are two sets of ticket counters, one right at the centre of the station which only issues warrants. Warrants are free passes available to Government Servants. They do not sell tickets to the public. As these are the most prominent counters and no others are visible from that place (there should be an arrow pointing to the other counters at least), it is possible to waste time standing in the wrong queue.

Lesson No.1: avoid the set of counters that says "warrants only". After reaching the head of the queue I was informed that I should move to another set of counters that were on the other side.

The queue there was even longer and one needs to be quite firm to maintain ones place. The concept of personal space does not exist so don't stand too far back from the person in front, people will just step in front of you; naturally this also means plenty of poking and shoving from behind.

Once I had got my tickets I went over to the platform. The train pulled up on time and there seemed to be a lot of people in it. I though people would get off, but no one did.

Lesson No.2 - get on the train at the starting point (in this case, Maradana) if you want a seat. 

 I scrambled into carriage that looked less crowded, but there were no seats. I looked across at the other carriages, they seemed worse so I decided to stay put. I was comforted by the fact that there seemed to be little heavy baggage; I guessed most people were on short journeys and once someone got off at Panadura or Kalutara I would get a seat.

Imagine therefore my growing horror as more people boarded at Dehiwala, still more at Mount Lavinia and even more at Moratuwa.  After we past Kalutara with no one getting off I had given up any hope of getting a seat. In a compartment with 28 seats I counted 20 people standing in the aisle or perched on the arm rests of seats. There were several families with small children and babes in arms. There seemed to be an unspoken arrangement whereby children who were in the aisles were slowly herded with families who had seats, the children sharing seats, sitting on armrests or standing in between the rows of seats.

Into this overcrowded carriage followed a procession on vendors setting vadai, soft drinks and snacks, not to mention numerous beggars. 
Mercifully, the morning was cool, there were fresh sea breezes blowing through the windows but as the windows are set fairly low, for standing passengers, no view. After a while I stopped worrying about the nuisances.  People started getting off in stages from Ambalangoda onwards and my mood lightened considerably. The train was quick and ran on time, arriving at Galle at around 9.40am. Overall it was a tolerable journey but not fun. Had I got a seat I would have quite enjoyed it, but deprived of a view there was nothing positive to focus on.

The cost of the ticket was cheap Rs.180 for 2nd class, it would be acceptable value for a single person or a gang of youngsters but not recommended for families.

On the return journey I took the Expressway bus (a bus every 15 minutes) , it cost Rs.470 to Maharagama but I got a seat. The bus was comfortable and fast. I took an ordinary bus from Maharagama to get to Colombo, which was not crowded and cost only Rs.27. The total journey took me 2 hours including the ride on the 138 to Colombo. The bus was by far the better option of the two modes of transport.

Apart from the hassle of getting there and the somewhat damp weather I had a good holiday in Galle, one of the highlights of which was the discovery of a very nice restaurant called "Refresh" in Hikkaduwa-excellent ambiance, a great place for a drink on the beach, watching the sunset.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Apples, Apricots and other fruity computers

Apple is now the most valuable company in history. It is a bit hard to imagine, Apple was in deep decline by 1997 when Steve Jobs returned to the company he founded with Steve Wozniak. Wozniak, now long forgotten by the public, was the engineer in the team, Jobs' contribution was mostly to marketing and design.

In 1997, it was Microsoft, the company spawned by IBM, the old giant in the field was in the ascendent, Apple seemed destined for permanent decline, following the path of Apricot, Acorn and others from that era.

The funny thing is that it is not computers that made Apple's name. Not many users of the Ipod or the Iphone would have even known what an Apple II looked like. Apple's success was to find a 21st century successor to the Sony Walkman.

Like the Ipod, the Walkman was the vision of its founder, Akio Morita and in its day, brought Sony as much fortune as the Ipod to Apple. Incidentally, Sony seems to have lost its way since the loss of its founder, people are beginning to wonder if Apple has now reached its zenith.

For those interested, there seem to be fans of retrocomputing who maintain museums of old computers. Those quirky machines were the toys of our time. The infinitely more powerful PC's we use today are little more than tools.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The difference between juice and nectar

I have been buying the Kist Mango Nectar quite frequently, the label says it contains fruit juice and it tastes good, very natural.

My brother however alerted me to a subtle difference in labelling: nectar and juice are not necessary the same.

If a product is described as "juice" it must contain 100% fruit juice or pulp. If it is described as "nectar" it contains some juice but also a lot of sugar water. In the UK the regulations a product need only contain 25%-50% of juice  (depending on the product) to qualify to be described as a "nectar".

Wonder what the local regulations are and how much juice actually goes into these products?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Curtting down the number of radio stations?

I heard that the radio frequencies are to be reassigned from the 1st of November. This is going to affect the brand value of the stations and possibly disrupt its audience, at least for a while. Not a major issue but one needs to understand the motives behind this.

The statement that "a radio station with three or four frequencies meant for different parts of the country may be given a single frequency with countrywide coverage." has certain implications. Will it result in fewer stations?

The purchase of the Sunday Leader leaves the Sunday Times/Mirror group as the main 'independent' source of information in the print media. The rules imposed on television advertising has had a debilitating impact on television. Are the radio stations next on the list?   

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Why do women strive to look good?

I have just returned from an evening at an old fashioned club that has retained some of its charm, despite the best efforts of various venal elements who at various times in the past have attempted to 'commercialise' the place.

I was with a friend, his wife and his over-energetic two year old son, who incidentally,  has the makings of a fine sportsman. He is a bundle of energy who loves running around in the open spaces of the club grounds.

My friend's wife, clearly exhausted by the antics of her son, mentioned that she liked coming to the club because it was peaceful and there was a lack of female competition. She said she felt she could come as she was, implying she did not feel the need to dress up a bit, because there was no competition around.

I have heard before that women feel the need to dress up not to impress men but to impress, or at least look better than, other women. Perhaps this is why Sri Lankan law firms, with a female to male ratio of 10:1 (or worse, I know of one place were a lone man works with 20 women), tend to have the most fashionably dressed women around? I used to think it came from an overdose of American television serials like Street Legal but perhaps there is something more subtle and evolutionary at work here.

In the case of men , when they do bother, I think dressing up is more about impressing women than anything else.

Any thoughts?